May 31, 1980
The mulberries have arrived, green and hard yet, but mounting beneath the leaves of trees up and down both sides of the Passaic River.
They are my Christmas gift in May – a birthday present three weeks late – from a fanatic get-rich-quick schemes of a 19th Century America, when some believed they could make a future in the silk worm trade. Silk worms eat these leaves, spin silk, and the foolish masses hoped to sell this silk to the mills in Paterson.
People are always looking for easy way to make it, and like all schemes this one fell out when the old city’s silk trade died, and thus, so did the city.
Yet the river goes on, and so do the crops of mulberries each year, dropping from their branches full and rip to stain the dock with purple marks. Some years, I can’t even find a place to sit the crop is so thick, though for the month or so when they ripen, I feast.
This is still too early for feasting, however, since the berries are still goo green and small and hard, knocked off their branches not by their own weight, but by truck vibrations on the bridge, passing of gulls or simply by a stiff wind.
Curious ducks sniff at those berries that bob in the water below, but do not devour them the way they tend to do everything else.
Those on the dock look like small green marbles, scattered in some abandoned game, waiting for the thumbs to return to push them.
In a week or two, I’ll plunder the newly ripened ones, a mid-jog snack to last me until I get back home for breakfast. I have mapped my route out with such trees, the biggest of which rises above the falls near the Service Diner. But I eat most here near this riverside dock and simply absorb the aroma elsewhere.
I do not know if fermented berries get the dunks drunk since junks being ducks tend to act drunk in and out of mulberry season. But I like to think so, seeing their breed as nature’s monks who have strayed from the path of righteousness the way I have into something far more human.
In a landscape marred with pollution and lined with paper mills and other factories, the mulberries hint at what might be left after all the human ambition has expired, berries still dropping here long after the dock and bridge, the roadway and the mills have gone – when gulls and random winds shake them loose for the drunken ducks below to devour.